Charlton brothers

Albert Cooper looks back at the day he took this iconic photo of Jack and Bobby Charlton at 1966 World Cup

by Northern Life

On Saturday 30th July 2016, I was at a Squires Gate v Crook Town AFC friendly game. It was a good game, both sides were playing good clean football, it had a great atmosphere, plus there were six goals.

I was very pleased with the way the game went, and happy to have taken a good selection of photographs. As I walked to the clubhouse at the end, one of our fans asked me: “Do you remember where you were 50 years ago on the 30th July 1966, when England beat West Germany to win the World Cup?”

I was so pleased that next week we’d start the season at Maltby Maine in the FA Cup first game, that I had forgotten what day it was. On that wonderful day, as a Northern sports photographer for the Sun (pre Murdoch), I had been sent to Wembley Stadium, with an off-pitch ticket to photograph the greatest match for English football.

I arrived at the press photographers’ entrance, with no idea where I would be working. I had never heard of ‘an off pitch position’.

A steward took me through the crowds inside the ground, and we went up steps at the back where spectators entered the seating area. But I was shown to a couple of building planks of wood above the entrance at the top of the stairs leading down to the rows of seats, which looked miles from the pitch.

I climbed up a stepladder and sat on the planks. Not the sharpest shot I’ve ever taken, but one that has given me most pleasure. I was sent to the 1966 World Cup final, in my first year as a staff sports photographer. Without a pass to get on the Wembley pitch, I had to photograph from a rough scaffolding plank positioned above the entrance at the back, where the fans came into the stadium.

Telephoto lenses were not what they are today, and mine was a 300mm f5.6 Novoflex that worked with a pistol grip squeeze focus. No monopod or tripod to keep steady.

My camera was a Pentax 35mm camera, and being behind all the spectators my vision was blocked when the fans stood up to cheer. It was so far from the pitch I don’t remember taking any other photograph worth printing. I looked around to try to get an atmosphere picture, but being behind all I could see were backs.

When the final whistle was blown, I got to my feet on the plank, but everything was happening over the other side of the pitch, where the managers were.

Albert Cooper 1965

Albert Cooper 1965

I watched as the players congratulated each other, and noticed the Charlton brothers as the seemed to come together on the far side of the centre circle away from all the melee that was going on. Being such a small image, it was difficult to keep them in focus and keep the plank still, people jumping around me. Then Jack and Bobby dropped to their knees, and hugged each other. I had no motor drive, and I just got the one shot. I knew it was special; it was soccer history!

It is not the best quality image from the game…but it was a world exclusive, and with the hundreds of press photographers, movie and TV photographers, no one else spotted what I managed to photograph.

A moment in history of the World Cup that may never happen again.

Bobby used the photograph in his book about his life as a soccer star. On Television talking about his life in football, he looked at the picture in his book and told that had he said to his brother Jack, as they knelt together: “Our lives will never be the same.”

by Albert Cooper